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Third straight trip to Final Four for Winnisquam baseball

The Winnisquam baseball team celebrates following the final out in its quarterfinal win over Mascenic on June 4. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
June 07, 2011
TILTON If one was nice and two was better, the Winnisquam Regional High School baseball team hopes its third straight trip to the Division III Final Four will be the best one yet.

While it'll be hard to top last year's Jordan Cote no-hitter in the state championship game, the Bears are one step closer. Cote's complete game effort on June 4 sent the Bears back to Manchester, as fourth-seeded Winnisquam beat Mascenic Regional High School, 8-2, before a large crowd in Tilton.

"We're just thrilled to be back," said Winnisquam skipper Fred Caruso. "It's the third year in a row in the Final Four. Before three years ago, a Winnisquam team hadn't gotten to the Final Four since 1962 and now we've been there three years in a row. I think that says a lot about our program and the work ethic. You don't just get there, it takes a lot of hard work."

The win marked the first time Cote had taken the mound in 13 days, as a week off before the postseason began plus Trevor Chapin getting the start in the preliminary win over Stevens meant the big righty was relegated to bullpen sessions to stay sharp in between starts.

"I've had 13 days off so it's kind of tough to get back into a game situation," Cote said. "I'm trying to throw strikes but my timing was a little off. You can't just throw a 90-pitch bullpen in between. I threw one bullpen that was 45 pitches. I knew I wasn't going to pitch the Stevens game, we talked about it after seeing them knock off Franklin. But we got the job done and now we're moving on to Manchester."

Cote gave up an unearned run in the top of the first inning, as number 12 Mascenic jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead.

"Jordan's last start was two weeks ago, that's tough," Caruso said. "He did as much throwing on the side as he could, but it's not a game situation. They scored that run in the first but he got better as the game went along and we were able to help him out at the plate."

Winnisquam responded in the bottom of the first, as Cote singled with two outs and Kyle Pratt followed with an RBI double to knot the score at one. Chapin singled in Pratt to put the Bears up 2-1 and the lead would grow to 3-1 when Chapin scampered home on a wild pitch.

The Bears led 5-2 in the fifth inning when Matt Roy put the game out of reach. With two outs and the bases loaded, Roy drilled a bases clearing triple to right center, giving Winnisquam a healthy 8-2 cushion.

"I just take it like any other at bat," said Roy of the triple. "I'm just trying to get a hit, not trying to do too much. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you aren't going to hit anything. And I guess I came through."

Caruso said Roy's three-bagger was a key point in the ballgame.

"That made us relax a little bit," he said. "Matt's come up huge for us all year. He's kept his average up over .500 the entire season. He's been very patient, great at taking it the other way. He stayed back on that pitch and drove it out there which is huge."

With a six-run lead, Cote breezed through the final two innings, and a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play in the seventh ended the game and secured the win.

"They're very aggressive at the plate," said Caruso of the Vikings. "Mascenic is always very well coached and fundamentally sound. Their coach told me that they thought we'd skip (Jordan) after we saw that they won but I told him, 'No way, man.' They're a good baseball program."

Winnisquam now heads to Gill Stadium in Manchester for the semifinals, where it will face familiar foe and top-seeded Somersworth High School. The teams met in last year's Class M title game and Cote also shut them out two weeks ago in Tilton, handing the Hilltoppers their first loss of the season in the process. Game time is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday.

With Cote tossing seven innings against Mascenic, the senior now has nine innings to work with the rest of the tournament, as the NHIAA sets the innings limit at 16.

"Last year we rolled the dice a little bit in the semifinals, pitched Nick Lyford and the plan was for Jordan to come in for the end and then have seven innings left for the finals," Caruso explained. "It worked out terrific. Is it going to work out like that again this year? I don't know. I wish I could look into a crystal ball."

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